Legally Ordering Prescription Drugs Online

The days of hours spent in a doctor’s office waiting room for a simple diagnosis and prescription slip are increasingly becoming a thing of the past. Technological advancements have infiltrated the medical community both in and out of the exam room.  

The introduction of telemedicine has made the connection between patient and doctor quicker and more convenient. Through a meeting over a laptop or smartphone, board-certified practitioners are able to examine and diagnose patients and prescribe medicine without ever meeting physically

And once medicine is prescribed, online pharmacies bring the same convenience and ease as telemedicine doctors. But ordering prescription drugs online can be tricky if patients are unaware of the laws and regulations or if the online pharmacy is even legitimate. As online medicine becomes more popular, it’s vital to be informed.

What are the laws?

While certain controlled substances like Adderall, Ritalin, and Ambien are available to patients with a prescription, when it comes to ordering drugs online, buying controlled substances over the internet without a valid prescription is punishable under Federal law and can land the consumer in prison.

Buying controlled substances over the internet without a valid prescription is punishable under Federal law

This rule doesn’t apply only to controlled substances, however. Legally ordering drugs from an online pharmacy will always require a prescription. Illegitimate pharmacies may provide patients with a quick survey and unreliable diagnosis before allowing them to purchase drugs, but without a valid, signed prescription from a doctor, the purchase is not legal.

It’s also important to keep licensing in mind. Websites for fake online pharmacies may look legitimate, so checking if the pharmacy is licensed in your state is imperative to ensure a legal and safe purchase. If you’re unable to find the online pharmacy on your state’s Board of Pharmacy’s license database, it’s best to stray from using them.

Along with confirming a pharmacy is licensed, be sure to check for a VIPPS seal. Seeing as VIPPS stands for “Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Sites,” if the website is branded with the seal, it means the site was reviewed and approved by the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP) and meets their criteria regarding customer privacy and prescription quality.

Be sure to check for a VIPPS seal

Another quick tip to identifying a legit online pharmacy is checking for the “.pharmacy” domain at the end of their website URL. Once the NABP has reviewed and approved an online pharmacy and added it to their list of verified websites, they are able to use the “.pharmacy” domain. Websites not verified by the NABP aren’t allowed to use this domain, making it even easier for consumers to differentiate between fake and legitimate. 

Confirming the online pharmacy has a physical location in the United States is also critical to ensuring an order is legal. Law imposed by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) prohibits the import of drugs from foreign countries, even if the drug is approved for use in the country of origin. 

Confirming the online pharmacy has a physical location in the United States

While some drugs may be approved for use in another country, if the drug is not approved by the FDA, it is therefore illegal to import into the United States. However, the policy includes a few exceptions.

In the following situations, personal imports of a non-FDA approved drug are typically allowed:

  •     The drug is used to treat a serious condition for which there is no available treatment in the United States;
  •     The drug is not commercialized or promoted to United States residents;
  •     There are no unreasonable risks associated with the use of the drug;
  •     The patient provides written verification that the drug is for his or her own use and contact information for their doctor, or provides verification that the drug is being used as a continuation of treatment begun in a foreign country; and
  •     The number of drugs imported does not exceed a 3-month supply.

Beware of the Signs

Considering fake online pharmacies often appear legitimate, looking out for specific signs can help patients.

Considering fake online pharmacies often appear legitimate, looking out for specific signs can help patients ensure they are buying from a reputable and safe online pharmacy. When searching for a convenient way to order prescriptions, look out for the following: 

  •     The online pharmacy allows you to purchase prescription drugs without a valid prescription signed by a doctor. 
  •     There is not a U.S. state-licensed pharmacist available to speak to.
  •     Prices are unbelievably discounted.
  •     You’ve received spam emails offering low priced medicine.
  •     Offer worldwide shipping and are not located in the United States.

If you find an online pharmacy to be doing any of the above, they are not a legitimate, safe, or legal online pharmacy.

Purchasing from an illegitimate online pharmacy is not only legally troublesome but can also be extremely hazardous to your health. Low-priced medicines from fake online pharmacies may have the wrong amount of or the completely wrong type of active ingredient needed to treat your condition. The medicine they sell may also have wrong or harmful ingredients that are not present in the correct prescription drugs.

How To Get a Prescription

Physically going to the doctor’s office is the traditional way to get a prescription, but establishing a relationship with a doctor via telemedicine is completely legal in all states. While some states have caveats to the general rule, receiving a prescription without a face-to-face examination is possible – especially if a patient-physician relationship was previously established in-person. 

However, a simple questionnaire does not meet the minimum requirements for an acceptable standard of care. Rather, a conversation over the phone or video appointment that meets the same standards of appropriate care as an in-person examination is mandatory for telemedicine. 

What can you order?

While telemedicine doctors are able to complete examinations and write most prescriptions without an in-person visit, some drugs are exempt from the online-only criteria. Depending on the state, certain controlled substances require an in-person physical examination prior to a prescription being written and filled. 

However, if an in-person examination is completed and the state-specific requirements are met, filling the subsequent prescription online is allowed for any and all drugs. As mentioned earlier, the only requirement for ordering drugs online is a valid and signed prescription, even for controlled substances.

Is it Covered?

Taking the entire medical process online and undergoing an examination by a telemedicine doctor can be a bit tricky when it comes to insurance coverage. Certain plans may differ, but it all comes down to the state of residence

Twenty-eight states require both Medicaid and private insurance companies to cover telemedicine services the same way they would cover in-person visits, while 18 states require only Medicaid, and one state requires only private insurance companies to reimburse for telemedicine services.

Are your prescriptions covered by your insurance company?

However, coverage for filling prescriptions online is just like any other pharmacy. Whether or not your prescription drugs are covered by insurance – even partly – all depends on your plan. While some health insurance plans cover prescriptions from various pharmacies, or “in-network pharmacies,” some online pharmacies may not qualify. 

Before ordering online, it’s best to call your insurance provider or check their website to find out which pharmacies are in-network, if their online alternatives are accepted, and which prescription drugs your plan covers. 

Considering the Risks, Why Order Online?

The rising cost of prescription drugs has led many patients to turn to online services, in hopes of finding deals on drugs. Again, while it’s important to be cautious of online pharmacies offering medicines at a “too good to be true” price, legitimate online pharmacies may also offer medicines at more affordable prices.

As with most online services, online pharmacies are also incredibly convenient for patients. With prescriptions submitted online or electronically via their doctor, patients skip the lines and wait time. Once the prescriptions are received by the online pharmacy, all the patient has to do is wait for their medicine to be delivered directly to their home. While this service increases accessibility for populations that may struggle with mobility or transportation, it increases the convenience for all pharmacy customers.

Filling a prescription online and receiving a direct shipment also comes with increased privacy. Face-to-face interactions that are required of traditional pharmacies require a more personal relationship with the pharmacist and associated employees, eliminating any anonymity surrounding their condition or ailment.

Regardless of the reason behind using online pharmacies, the most important thing is to ensure the website is verified, safe, and secure so you can rest assured that your health is in good hands.


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